PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has a particular fondness for the United Nations General Assembly, probably because it is one of the few international platforms where he can meet with as many other heads of state or government. Or even possibly because he genuinely believes it is a platform for serious international governance to be debated and hopefully made international law.
In the instance of this year’s General Assembly, the President must have been smiling beyond measure when the African Union Chair President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi in his UN address mentioned Zimbabwe in the same sentence as Cuba.
I would not know if Zimbabwe can be described as similar to Cuba in any particular way given the different history of these two countries, but President waMutharika’s comments are key pointers to Zanu PF’s international image reinvention strategy. A strategy which now clearly intends to present President Mugabe as an African version of Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez, regardless of the fact that he is neither, nor as resourced.
Alternatively this would also translate to an attempt to present the Zanu PF leader as an anti-imperialist, anti neo-liberal, pro-people leftist hero. This is so particularly in the aftermath of what has turned out to be the West’s disastrous invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Some might argue that this is a difficult sell by any means but such a fact should not impede analysis of the same.
The first point of analysis is that because Zanu PF officials can no longer travel the globe as in the past, they have a deliberate strategy to utilise every opportunity they get under the auspices of the United Nations, the African Union and SADC. And this they will do at the highest level. The general pitch and plan is to counter the human rights and democracy narrative that has gripped these international institutions by painting a picture that emphasises protection of national sovereignty before a wholesale adoption of universal democratic values.
On the African Continent, particularly with SADC, Zanu PF seems to have succeeded. At least for now. The Heads of State and Government in SADC that had been most inclined to criticise Zanu PF seem to have gone quiet, especially President Khama of Botswana and President Kikwete of Tanzania. If the media reports around the now controversial issue of the SADC Tribunal are to be believed, even these two leaders have now adopted a less direct approach to the problems of Zimbabwe.
Secondly, Zanu PF knows that the African Union is a difficult creature to straddle and so they emphasise due process in the role it can play in dealing with Zimbabwe. The bureaucratic nature of the AU as well as its deference to SADC on anything to do with Zimbabwe makes any serious action over and about Zimbabwe well nigh impossible.
Add to this the multitude of much more serious conflict zones such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar, then the AU is as good as an ally for Zanu PF, especially with the Pan-Africanist trend of seeking to have African problems solved by Africans.
Thirdly, Zanu PF has thoroughly exploited the general scepticism that other African governments have had toward Western judgment of their national elections as well as other domestic policies. An immediate example would be Rwanda President Kagame who at the UN General Assembly was quoted in the Guardian newspaper as saying: "It has become clear that the UN has evolved into a two-tier organisation, reflecting a world that seems to be divided into two categories: one with inherent laudable values, rights and liberties, and another that needs to be taught and coached on these values.”
Such statements from a fellow African President would no doubt fit snugly into Zanu PF’s “double standards” and “regime change” narrative.
Fourthly, the United Nations General Assembly is considering reform to its Security Council, with Africa clamouring for a permanent seat, and President Mugabe has made it a point to endear himself to the major proponents of these proposals. This entails him potentially exchanging Zimbabwe’s support for these reforms in return for continued protection at the UN and other international summits.
To compound matters even further, Zanu PF has probably promised support to one of the countries intending to get permanent membership of the council, countries which include South Africa, Algeria, Egypt and Nigeria. Add to this, the fact that other countries that are seeking reform of the Security Council are also leftist governments in Latin America, governments in South East Asia and Australia and one realises that the options for political bargaining by Zanu PF are many.
Finally, the fact that President Mugabe has gone out of his way to seek solidarity and understanding with China, Russia, Iran and some Latin American governments has led to the attempts to impose UN sanctions on Zimbabwe being rejected. This is primarily due to China’s presence in the Security Council with tacit support from Russia. In return Zanu PF has bargained away the country’s mineral and other resources for this sort of support, a fact that shall affect future generations of Zimbabweans in what can only be a negative way.
So the return of President Mugabe from the UN is indicative of a Zanu PF strategy that seems to have worked thus far. The ambiguity of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars has left a sour taste in the mouths of many African and Latin American governments, which in turn has led to muted responses in how to deal with the problems in Zimbabwe, even though the majority of African governments know that Zanu PF is primarily responsible for the crisis that Zimbabwe now finds itself in.
And all of this does not mean the actions of Zanu PF have been in any way revolutionary. On the contrary, they are an attempt to return to the past through false reinvention in order to regain lost glory. It might be working for now, but in the final analysis, it will not triumph.